Saturday, April 24, 2010

Vocations Sunday 2010 - Reflections

Ten years ago I was preparing (with a great deal of trepidation) for my first 'Vocations Sunday' as director of vocations for the Irish Dominican friars. It is a long time ago, and indeed the world was a very different place. The church in Ireland was also in a very different place, although some similarities between 2001 and 2010 can still be drawn. What follows are some reflections on the state of vocations in Ireland now and how it compares to ten years ago - and the final reflection will be on where the Dominicans and vocations are at now in 2010.

The Vocation of All
In 2001, it was more politically correct to speak of vocation of all peoples and the various states that people are called to: marriage, single life, religious life and priesthood. However in 2001, it was clear that this emphasis of an 'all-inclusive' vocation made it difficult to make the distinction between the various types of vocation - to the point where it was not easy to promote vocation to religious life and priesthood without having to include all other types of vocation. In 2010, this has changed - and indeed the language about vocation has also changed. It is apparent over these years that of necessity, the church has had to take a positive stance on promoting the vocation of religious and priests, and not to be afraid to do so. There now exists a situation where the vocation of all is respected and an understanding that there are distinct calls made by the Lord to follow Him. This is progress in the right direction.

Taking Vocation Promotion Seriously
In 2001, you would have been hard pressed to find any diocese or religious order promoting vocations in any systematic or serious manner. The culture of promotion was very much in its infancy despite the many strides made with technology and media at the time. Indeed, anyone considering a vocation ten years ago would have found it difficult to find any meaningful information on how to properly pursue their vocation. in 2010, this has changed, although not as dramatically as one woud have liked. While there is a far greater amount of information available on vocations in general, it is fair to say that the church has still not grasped the potential that exists in reaching large numbers of people. It is slow progress.

Vocational Discernment
In 2001, a culture of vocation discernment hardly existed. There was little by way of method in diecerning vocation with potential candidates. More often than not, enquirers were instead offered spiritual direction in response to a request to discern vocation. Frequently, a culture had emerged at that time to allow candidates to 'give it a go' in seminary or a house of formation, without any meaningful or real reflection. As one might expect, this had unfortunate outcomes. In 2010, one would like to think that this picture has changed, and it has - but slowly. Vocation directors, in the main, are not trained for their ministry and are still crying out for help in this area from authorities in dioceses and religious congregations. Potential recruits and enquirers deserve much better in this area. We are failing them if we do not offer real, methodical discernment. To me, it is the greatest lack in vocation ministry in Ireland these past ten years.

Creating A Culture of Vocations
In 2001, a 'culture of vocation' did not really exist in Ireland. For the vast majority of vocation directors (male and female) their ministry competed with many other ministries asked of them by their diocese or congregations. Creating a 'culture of vocation' was not high on the agenda of most dioceses or congregations who asked their vocations personnel to take on this difficult burden. To be fair, many congregations and dioceses saw the need to create such a 'culture of vocations' that they did in fact appoint people to full-time positions of vocations promotion and discernment. Those dioceses and congregations who did appoint someone full-time are beginning to see some of the rewards of their foresight. Those who did not and continue to decline this possiblity are surely asking themsleves some questions. In 2010, a minority of dioceses and religious congregations in Ireland have full time vocations directors/personnel. What does this say of their seriousness in tackling the problem?

Dominicans and Vocations
The Irish Dominican friars in their provincial chapter in 2000 decided to take the bold decision of nominating a friar in the role of full-time vocations promoter. In 2001, the Irish Dominican friars had one man in initial formation. Now, ten years on, the Irish Dominican friars have 22 men in formation for the priesthood, having had 5 men ordained during that period. The Irish Dominicans have further committed to putting all the necessary resources in place to maximise the potential number of vocations at its disposal at the present moment.
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